Are you pushing on a door marked “pull”?

February 14, 2011

Photo by Frederik Falinski on Unsplash

I’ve done it.  Then looked around to check who is watching.  Embarrassing, or what?

Sadly I see a lot of small and medium sized businesses making the same mistake.  Not just once.  But repeatedly.

They put a ton of effort into getting to the door of the audience’s consciousness with pay-per-click, SEO, contact lists, database management, email templates, twitter, tracking systems, and a host of other technological tools. Only to find it shut in their face.

Why?  Because most people are sick of being bombarded with sales and marketing messages – they just want to be left in peace.  Getting prospects to open up and engage with your message requires a totally different approach.

How many geeks does it take to change someone’s mind?  None!

A hi-tech approach, one that focuses on media, mechanics and metrics, will get the message delivered.  But you need a hi-touch one to get it accepted.  Hi-touch is all about seeing things from the audience’s perspective – understanding their feelings and emotions, hopes and fears, then tapping into them.  That’s how the big successful brands get engagement – watch their TV commercials.

Take UPS.  You can’t get more logical than logistics, and yet they succeed in making parcels sexy!

But what do most marketers do?  They focus on themselves, listing as many features of their product and service as possible.  They might throw in a few benefits, almost as an afterthought, but they tend to be logical (save time, save money, increase productivity, improved return on investment…).

All those benefits are in the UPS commercial (listen closely to the lyrics), but they are so skilfully wrapped up with positive emotions that it’s the heart which gets the message first.  Here’s a hi-tech company that totally gets hi-touch!

Why the message must be hi-touch

People have incredibly short attention spans.  If you don’t immediately focus on them, and plug straight into their heart, they hit the mental delete button.

People generally buy on emotion, then use logic to justify the decision they have just made.  So the features, and the logical benefits can be in there – but you have to win their heart first.   Look at the UPS commercial again.  Note how the golden shield logo (logical benefit – protection) is repeatedly mirrored by golden hearts.

You are in a crowded marketplace.  There’s little difference between what you and your competitors are offering.  So merely listing features and benefits ensures you are not going to stand out – it’s marketing suicide!   If you doubt this, read Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow”.  Or read the précis.

Do something different.  Focus on what your prospect wants, show you understand how they feel, and then offer a solution (ideally expressed with a little wit and elegance).  Immediately you leap out from the crowd.  And suddenly the prospect likes you.

It’s not rocket science (precisely my point).  It’s simple awareness of basic human nature.  And it makes all the difference.

Stop pushing!  You’re just p****** people off

But what do most businesses do, with the help of their marketing consultants, design agencies and digital specialists?  They get to a closed door, and push up against it with features and benefits.  They knock, they shout, they push some more, desperately trying to stick logic in the audience’s face.

Then, eventually, they accept something is not working.  But do they question the message, and the way it is being expressed?  No.  They stick with hi-tech and fiddle with the mechanics – let’s look at triggered email, let’s change the engagement metrics, let’s do more tracking via email analytics, let’s try twitter, let’s get some more apps…

They are missing the point.  It’s the message, stupid!

Sick of pushing on a door marked pull?   Get stories that sell to give your messaging a quick review.  Or buy our book The Authority Guide to Creating Brand Stories That Sell.

  1. Sonja Jefferson February 15, 2011 Reply

    You are so right Jim. The message has to be compelling to the audience you are targetting. If not, no amount of hollering will get you through the door. It's the precursor to all marketing and selling as you say.

    Thanks for the great post. Love the new blog and can't wait to hear more.

  2. Jim February 16, 2011 Reply

    Hi Sonja,
    Thanks for positive comment. More posts in the pipeline!

  3. Ryan James February 16, 2011 Reply

    Love this blog post Jim... I've heard you rant about it before, but great to see you put pen to paper and into words that really hit home. I'm working with a couple of clients that currently fit right into your stereotype, one of which has worked with a big well known agency in Bristol and left none the wiser by the experience... I shall be forwarding your article as a perfect explanation on why what they've done hasn't enlightened their sales and marketing process!
    Nice work Mr O'Connor!

    • Jim February 19, 2011 Reply

      Hi Ryan,
      thanks for positive feedback. Be interested to know what your client makes of it!

  4. Tony February 22, 2011 Reply

    Great thinking Jim,
    Talking to the subconscious and talking attractively are two very powerful and seemingly effortless ways of communication


  5. Justin Elliott May 16, 2011 Reply

    "People generally buy on emotion, then use logic to justify the decision they have just made."

    So true! UPS is the perfect example. They're basically selling space in lorry to send something from A to B, but it's the branding and message that make you want to choose them over their competitors.

    Nurofen, panadol etc do it too. You can buy exactly the same thing for 25p from a supermarket own label, but yet they convince people to spend £2+ by appealing to our emotions. Genius!

  6. Andrew Stinchcomb May 16, 2011 Reply


    I am not a marketing professional. And with that said, what I want - and what many people want - is to be understood. It's the speed of trust which still counts in all relationships. Trust occurs by what takes place between people, the depth of the experience and their frequency, not necessarily the actual hours, days and months spent. Have you ever noticed that when people trust you, you don't need fancy sales techniques, more SEO, more twitter messages et al? I know that's my experience. Trust is created by meaningful connection between human beings. Hi touch has my vote - because it's based on solid principles. We don't need more hi-tech, we need more connection.

    I enjoyed your blog :)


  7. Jim O'Connor May 17, 2011 Reply

    Hi Justin,
    Thanks for your comment - much appreciated! Yes, even though I understand what a marketer is doing when they play on my emotions I still find it hard to resist.

    I'm just about to put up a new post about T Mobile, and the fact that they do this it in a way that I find condescending and a bit sinister.

    Hope you enjoy that post too...

    Kind regards,


  8. Jim O'Connor May 17, 2011 Reply

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for thoughtful comment.

    You are absolutely right...and fact that you are not a marketing professional, and work with people face to face, probably helps you! Too many of those in marketing (in my recent experience) are so focused on the process, the numbers and their own egos that they just don't connect with people. They think that if they just "press the right buttons" people will do what they are told!

    This kind of arrogance immediately destroys the foundationa on which trust and connections are built. As you say, people just want to be understood...but so many marketing professionals are so busy talking about themselves, and what they are selling, that they make it immediately obvious that they have no interest in what anyone else is really thinking or feeling - they assume they have got that worked out already, and know what is best for their "target audience".

    It's hard to market in such a way that the potential customer comes to accept that you genuinely understand them...but that's what marketers have to do if they want to succeed.

  9. John Emery June 17, 2011 Reply

    Why can I not get a web designer that gets this? I have just had the mock ups for our new site & it has sent me into screaming depression. It is all about fancy design saying how fantastic we are, this is not what people are looking for. We put good hardwood floors in houses. If someone puts 'wood floors Bristol' into a search engine they are not looking for a company, they are looking for information. Give the information, begin the conversation, the quality is presumed throughout, why push it?
    Why can I not find an integrated service of basic IT, website design & CRM that has marketing knowledge?

  10. Jim June 18, 2011 Reply

    Hi John,

    I share your frustration! When I'm asked to write the content/copy (see my recent post "Are the words on your website just dancing around their handbags?" for quick overview of how they differ) it is almost always after the site has been designed and the words are regarded as little more than "filler".

    A lot of web designers I meet have very little interest in anything much beyond their narrow skill set. They therefore have little understanding of business, marketing, selling, psychology and how to build relationships with a variety of different human beings. They are just technicians. What you need, metaphorically speaking, is an architect, but you are being fobbed off with bricklayers.

    Most web design agencies will promise the integrated service you are asking for, and can talk for England about "getting engagement" but it's bloody hard to find any that really understand what it is you want. The bigger agencies probably have all those skills in house but they are bound to be expensive, plus I suspect the marketing people and the Mac heads still struggle to understand each other - they are from different planets and tend to treat eachother with slight disdain.

    So, in answer to your plea...I don't have an easy answer. I think you just have to keep a very clear idea of what you want in mind and sit on the web designer till they do exactly what you want (even though they probably never understand why you are insisting on doing things that way!)

  11. Brian Bartaby October 17, 2018 Reply

    I know that this is an old blog but I have just stumbled upon it and liked it so much that I ended up buying the book. You must be doing something right.

    • Jim October 23, 2018 Reply

      Hi Brian,
      Delighted you stumbled across my old blog and liked so much. Thank you for buying the book and I hope you like this also! All the best, Jim

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